World

Michael Avenatti found guilty in Nike extortion case

Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who gained fame by representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against U.S. President Donald Trump, was convicted Friday of trying to extort sportswear giant Nike.

Prosecutors say Avenatti was motivated by mounting debt to try to extort the shoe giant

Lawyer Michael Avenatti is shown outside Manhattan Federal Court on Oct. 8, 2019. He has been convicted on charges that can total up to 42 years in prison. (Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press)

Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who gained fame by representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against U.S. President Donald Trump, was convicted Friday of trying to extort sportswear giant Nike.

The verdict was returned Friday by a federal jury in Manhattan after it deliberated charges of attempted extortion and honest services fraud in what prosecutors say was an attempt by Avenatti to extort up to $25 million US from Nike with threats to otherwise harm the company. The charges carry a combined potential penalty of 42 years in prison.

Avenatti glared at the jurors as the verdict was being announced but said nothing.

Afterward, he shook hands with his lawyers and told them "great job," before he was led back to the cell where he has been held since a judge found he had violated his bail conditions.

His lawyer, Scott Srebnick, declined to comment but said he would appeal the conviction. A judge set sentencing for June 17.

Avenatti, 48, became prominent during frequent appearances on cable news programs in 2018 and 2019 as journalists courted him for information about  Daniels and her claims of a Trump tryst before he became president and a payoff to remain silent about it. At his peak of notoriety, Avenatti even considered running for president himself.

But a steep fall from power-broker status was swift when Avenatti was arrested as he was about to meet Nike lawyers last March to press his demands for millions of dollars to conduct an internal probe of the Beaverton, Ore.,-based shoemaker.

Avenatti maintained he was taking the aggressive position at the urging of his client, Gary Franklin, who ran a youth basketball league in Los Angeles and was angry that Nike ended a decade-long sponsorship that provided $72,000 annually and free gear. He sought $1.5 million for Franklin, as well.

2 other open cases

Franklin testified that two Nike executives forced him to pay money to the mother of an elite high school basketball player and to pass along payments to the handlers of other players while doctoring paperwork to hide the purpose of the funds.

Avenatti did not testify, but his lawyers said he was following the wishes of Franklin and an entertainment executive who advised him to be aggressive to force Nike to fire corrupt executives and fix its culture.

Besides the extortion trial, Avenatti also faces an April trial in New York on charges he defrauded Daniels of book proceeds and a May trial in Los Angeles on charges he defrauded clients and others of millions of dollars.

He remains held without bail. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles succeeded last month in getting him locked up after saying he violated his $300,000 bail by moving money around illegally after his arrest.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.